Tuesday, March 28, 2017

What are we listening to?

What are we listening to, today?

Think for a moment.
Just sit back and think.
What sounds have you heard today?

Did the alarm wake you?
Did the sound of a pet or a child rouse you from sleep?
Did the soft ticking of a clock hit your ears as you looked about you in the morning light? (Yes, I know, I'm not only old, I'm old school.)

How about when you walked down the hall? Did you hear your own footsteps? Or the steps of a family member?
Did you hear the sounds of your morning cup?
How about if you heard some sounds from outdoors . . . birds singing cheerfully, the breeze moving the tree leaves and limbs . . . perhaps a car moving past your house?

Have you enjoyed the sounds of praise music or hymns as you move about today?

What a wonderful gift our hearing is!
To hear the words and laughter of a child, or the wise advice of an elder -- what blessings!
And what a sweet blessing to hear the voice of God as we read our Bibles and learn more about Him!

What are we listening to today?

Monday, March 27, 2017

The elect lady

Many believers have a favorite book of the Bible. A favorite verse. A chapter that gives comfort and inspiration each time they re-read it.

For some, it's the three little books near Revelation, in the New Testament. The three books written by John. Consensus among the scholars is that this was John, son of Zebedee, and that he was the author of the gospel of John, and then of the book of Revelation after his exile to the island.

I John is almost like an essay that supports his gospel; it deals with concepts like God's love for sinners, light contending with darkness, and abiding in Christ. The other two deal with some problems that were faced by the community of believers, and give instructions from the elderly apostle in how to handle those problems. In 2 John, we see him warning the Christians to be careful of teachers that want to deceive them -- there were those who said Christ had not come in the flesh, and John said that the believers should not welcome them into their homes. At the same time, he encourages them to be hospitable to fellow Christians.

I think it's interesting many times to look at the surrounding circumstances of a book or letter, to see more of the world the writer and the recipients lived in. In this case, as my grandma used to say, there is more than meets the eye!
There was an ancient belief that we call Gnosticism, and Christians who were influenced by it did not accept that Christ was God in human form. Also, since they believed the physical body was evil, some thought it must be treated harshly. Others thought that since the body was of no consequence (only the spirit was important) they could live as they pleased. So, these few verses are an answer to those challenges from John, and they are also well-loved, as they stress the love of God, and the love of Christians for one another.

"The Elect Lady" is the title of our study this week, and she is first addressed in 2 John. There has been some dispute over the years, of whether this was an actual lady, or a term that John used to refer to the church . . . I suppose it's human nature, but have you ever noted just how many things we humans argue about? And how inconsequential some of them are?
Oy vey.
Anyway, I believe that it was addressed to a lady who was prominent in the church. The Bible was written by plain people, for plain people, and my take on it is that she was a worthy Christian who was known in the vicinity of Ephesus, and that he may have met her on one of his visits to the churches of Asia.
Let's look at our verses:
The elder,To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ,the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.13 The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings. (II John 1-13)
The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; (verse 1, KJV)

Here is an extra bit of study for you: the word that occurs here and is translated "lady" is seen four times in our Bibles. Look these up and compare them: Isaiah 47:5, Isaiah 47:7, II John 1, and II John 5.
Also, the plural, "ladies" is seen twice. Here are the references you can turn to: Judges 5:29, and Esther 1:18.
I like digging in!
It appears that when this word is used, we are talking about a lady with more dignity than some around her. God is not partial, and no respecter of persons, but humans are, and this word means that the humans around these women thought they were of a higher grade -- perhaps another word could be "princess." When we see the villainesses of the Bible, the word used many times for them is the feminine of "lord," and means a woman having land rights, and authority, as a ruler. The bad girls! In the United Kingdom, a lady is the wife of someone who has received a title or honor from the Crown, or a woman of social position -- the feminine equal to a gentleman. The word used here by John is "kuria," and it was rarely used even for queens!

Why didn't he just call her by name? Like Paul did, in some of his letters?
It could be that the dangers of the times, and the fact that the Christians and their families faced persecution and death, made it best that both her name, and the name of the writer be left out.

This is the background for our study this week.
Hope you will join us!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Phoebe, conclusion

As we conclude our study of Phoebe this week, let's look at some practical applications for our own lives. Some of us are married; some are single, like Phoebe. All of us can use our special talents and the love that Christ puts in our hearts to help others.

First, we should ask ourselves if we can assist new believers. Phoebe seems to have "mothered" new converts, the "babes" in Christ. Think about what new believers would have been "up against" in their world . . . temples on every corner to this and that idol, temple prostitutes and orgies, superstition, the occult, family that doesn't understand or reviles the new convert. Kinda sounds like today, doesn't it? A new believer needs nurturing, and needs to be grounded in the Word; a Christian who can come alongside and foster that person is vitally important. Show them by word and by example how to pray and how to live . . .

We can also comfort the sorrowing. We don't know if Phoebe was a widow, or if she'd never been married, but she was uniquely qualified to help and encourage others. There are many in our circle of friends and in our churches, who carry heavy burdens and are sorrowful.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:2,10)
We can help the aged and the infirm. What wisdom our elderly friends can provide us! But many of them are over-looked and neglected, and some need financial assistance. Some are lonely and need assistance with daily tasks. Others just need to know that someone loves them.

Single or married, we can also have a ministry of prayer. Do we keep a prayer list handy? Do we use it in our prayer and study times?
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Those who are on the field of combat, so to speak, the missionaries and the pastors, need our prayers. Just as Paul asked for the prayers of the believers, so the modern-day workers need our prayers, as well. And we must not forget to pray for those that we know are not yet saved, or need to come back to a close relationship with our Lord.

Another way that we can "be a Phoebe" in this world, is to open our home to other believers. Our place may be tiny, or it may be large, but it may seem like heaven to someone who is a new believer. They may be lonely, or even rejected by their family because of their new faith. We can be a comfort to them.

I don't know about you, but I sure hope that I can be like Phoebe. Her name and her life reflected the grace and glory of our Lord!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Phoebe, a dedicated single

We're studying a dedicated single lady this week, who was mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Romans:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Romans 16:1-2)
Phoebe was from the town of Cenchreae, which (even though the name has changed) is still today a port town in the province of Achaia in Greece. Whether for business reasons, personal reasons, or simply a change in her place of residence, she was traveling to Italy. And it is to her that Paul entrusts his letter to the Christians in Rome.

Paul first calls this lady a "sister." When Paul uses this term, it doesn't mean they had the same mom. (Grin) He is referring to spiritual relationships.  In I Corinthians, he calls the Christian husband and wife "the brother and the sister." Paul also refers to Timothy as his "son in the faith." So, Phoebe was a member of the spiritual family, the family of Christ. She was redeemed and the Holy Spirit lived in her.
But when the set time had fully come,God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)
A woman is our sister if she shares our experience of God's saving grace. That is how we are made members of His redeemed family. I wonder how many conflicts and bad feelings could be avoided if we just remembered that simple truth? Would we want to be short, or terse in our conversations with someone who is our sister in Christ? Would we want to talk about her when she was not around? How many of our sisters will we meet in heaven? I for one look forward to that day, when our longed-for coffee shop study will become a reality! I have some hugs to give to all of y'all!
So, Paul uses the term "sister" to indicate she is a Christian.

He goes on to say that Phoebe is not only a Christian, but an important and loved member of the church. The word he uses has been translated in several ways over the years, from deaconess to ministrant, to servant. In any case, she had met Paul when he arrived in Cenchrea on his third missionary journey, and was devoted to the church and its members. I don't guess we can know for certain (that is, until we can ask Paul or Phoebe in heaven) if she was a true official of the church. Was she set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands? What were her duties? Did she inquire into and seek to relieve members' distresses? To plead the case of a forgotten widow before a neglectful, richer "brother"? Did she bravely battle oppression for those less fortunate than she?

We don't know if such an official name as "deaconess" was in use at the time, but we can see that there is the possiblity that she was a teacher of the women and children of the faith community, and that she could have been responsible for the needs of the poor among the church. Even if her role was not an official one, we can see that it was a gracious, effective one, and she was one of the forebears of the vast numbers of women who have rendered loyal service to both Christ and His church.

It's my personal belief, after studying Paul's letters, that she may have taught the women and children, but not the men. And that her role was that of a noble and reliable helper to the leaders of the church. I think that we have to be cautious today about "tweaking" how the church should look or operate -- just because of how society feels we should look. After all, the world has always been critical of Christians, right? Even though we don't want to unnecessarily offend someone, we must never go against our conscience, or our understanding of the Scriptures. I may very well be wrong in my interpretation on this issue, and I will be open minded as I listen, but if you want to convince me, the explanation must match up with the Word of God! (Grin)

Next, Paul says that Phoebe has been a benefactor -- the Greek word he uses is "prostatis" and has been translated in the KJV as "succourer."  Kind of a hard word for us today; we don't hear it much! In the Greek, it's a really expressive word, and it means "one who stands by in the case of need." It used to describe a trainer in the Olympic games -- the trainer would stand by the athletes to see that they were properly trained and ready for the signal. It's almost akin to the word that we would call "champion," or one who stands up for others. It seems that Phoebe may have had a history of being unselfish and brave. She may have been a devoted champion of believers who found themselves in trouble. Paul says that she was a benefactor to him, as well -- perhaps she contributed to his ministry, or gave of her wealth to make sure his needs were met. Perhaps she tended him during a sickness.

No matter which of these assumptions is true, Paul urged the believers in Rome to receive her in the Lord. Godly Phoebe is a testimony to what Christ can do through a life that is consecrated to him.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Verses that inspire

Are you in some life situations right now that make you think of these verses?
I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  (Malachi 3:1-2)
Do you feel like you are in the refiner's fire?
It's never easy.
It's not pleasant.
But it can be positive. And it can be hopeful.
Let's look at it together.
We learn as kids that we should not play with fire. But the fire mentioned in these verses is one that is purposeful -- it refines, and purifies. It melts down the metal, and separates out the impurities and "bad stuff" that would ruin the metal's value. It leaves the metal, whether silver or gold, in better shape than when the process began.

I had not noticed very much before, but look at the last four words of verse two . . . or a launderer's soap.
Truly God is very much like that, since He takes our sin filled hearts and lives and cleans them up; He makes us pure, and holy like Himself. It's the only way that it can happen!

These verses are not just words of warning, but they are also words of hope. The fires we go through are not for destruction. They are for refinement. For the betterment of our hearts and souls. To make us more like Him, Who came and died on the cross, a sinless Lamb of God.

Praise God He arose!

And like Rhoda in our studies last week, we should "constantly affirm that it is so."

These verses inspired me . . . won't you share something from your reading of the Word that will help all of us?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Phoebe, a dedicated single

Do we remember who Phoebe was?
Paul thought so much of her that he sent the letter to the Christians in Rome either in her hands, or with her and others as they traveled. He thought so much of her that he wanted the Christians there to make sure they did their utmost to make her welcome.

Let's see where she is mentioned:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Romans 16:1-2 NIV)
Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess (servant) of the church at Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord [with love and hospitality], as God’s people ought to receive one another. And that you may help her in whatever matter she may require assistance from you, for she has been a helper of many, including myself. (AMP)
We can see that we don't know very much about this lady who delivered Paul's letter to Rome. We just have this brief mention of her, and her service.

This is the "tying up of loose ends" here in the letter to the Romans. Many will be mentioned here, saluted as friends and co-workers, and will live for all time because Paul notes them here in chapter sixteen. What an honor! To be mentioned in this page of personal messages . . .

Phoebe's name means "light of the moon," but she certainly had exchanged that for the "Light of the world," had she not? The Bible commentaries suggest that she must have been a woman of some means; she was planning to travel from Achaia (a province in Greece) to Italy. It may have been a change of residence, or perhaps a business venture that took her on this long journey. She must have proven herself both reliable and brave, for Paul to entrust her with this important task.

So we have a reliable, well to do, pious woman, who is carrying this precious letter. We also see that she is called, in different translations, a servant, or a deaconess. Not only is she a believer, but she is an integral part of the church in Greece; she was not only a Christian, but a servant "of the church." She may have been set apart by the laying on of hands, or she may simply have assumed the role of inquiring and relieving distressed members, and teaching others about the Lord.  Paul mentions that she has helped many, including the apostle himself.

Paul urges the Christians in Rome to do their utmost to receive her and assist her. We'll learn more about her this week.